It’s no secret that Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell was irked by the fact that some his players opted not to wear their longer cleats for last Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those players struggled with their footing in the grass as the playing surface worsened throughout the game.
It sounds like most players have learned their less and will wear the longer cleats from the opening kickoff for this Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
“The tough part is the pregame can be deceiving, as we found out last week,” Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said about his decision to start in shorter cleats last week. “We felt good about the footing in pregame, then once the game started and it got dark out, the field changed a lot.”
The biggest reason players are averse to the longer cleats is because they feel different than usual. They sink deeper into the ground compared to the shorter cleats, and thus, that can make players feel slower throughout the game.
“It’s difficult because we’re not really used to running with that long of a stud,” receiver Justin Jefferson said before highlighting their usefulness. “It definitely helps when we don’t really have a good field and it’s very slippery.”
Cornerback Patrick Peterson said he doesn’t feel a huge difference. He added that he almost always opts for longer cleats when the playing surface is questionable.
“I can’t afford to be on the ground,” he said with a laugh. “I want to keep myself upright and give myself the best opportunity to stay upright throughout the game.”
Next man up
With star right tackle Brian O’Neill on injured reserve, there are a number of players who could take his spot in the starting lineup. As of now, reserve offensive lineman Oli Udoh seems like the natural choice.
“We do feel confident that Oli is ready to step up and fill that role,” offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. “He’s among the more physically gifted players on our team and really across the league as far as tackles. He’s got really long arms. He’s big. He’s strong. We do feel confident that he’ll be able to step in and fill that role.”
It’s worth noting that reserve offensive lineman Blake Brandel could be ready for the playoffs. He filled in admirably when star left tackle Christian Darrisaw missed some time earlier this season.
Ups and downs
After getting a huge blocked punt from special-teams ace Josh Metellus last week, the Vikings allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown a few plays later.
Asked about the swing, special-teams coordinator Matt Daniels called the sequence inexcusable.
“You never want to be on the negative side of special teams because of the impact it has on a football game,” Daniels said. “You can look at it like we get the blocked punt and come away with a field goal, then they take it to the crib on us. I would say we came out on the negative side of that. As a result, that kind of played a factor in how the football game ended up going.”
Neither center Garrett Bradbury nor defensive tackle James Lynch participated in Thursday’s practice. It’s unclear if either player will be available for the regular-season finale.